food

How Chocolate Will Boost Your Workout (Seriously)

One man reveals how a daily rationing of dark chocolate gave him a better workout and saved him from writer’s block. —Douglas Coupland

Several years ago, I had a bout of writer's block that dragged on for months. To fix it, I took a holistic approach and began going to the gym five times a week. After six months of hitting the gym, the writer's block went away… sort of. I wasn't back to where I had been, and I was depressed, as writing is my living.

In those six months at the gym, I began to notice that I got the legendary exerciser's endorphin rush only (if at all) around the 45th minute of my hour-long workout. On the other hand, the gym's trainers seemed to get high as kites after a minute on a treadmill. I thought this over and asked my trainer, Neil, if he knew of any vitamin or protein thingy, or anything else I could eat before coming to the gym, that might catalyze a quicker endorphin rush. He said he'd ask his wife, an MD. I wasn't getting my hopes up, but it seemed plausible that some kind of supplement would help. Like many of us, I've visited the protein superstores, and while I haven't embraced that world, I don't think it could exist if there weren't some science behind it all.

The next day, Neil came to me with an answer: chocolate.

Chocolate?

His wife was unsure, but something in her studies suggested it would be worth trying. So I did, but not with the standard checkout-counter chocolate. I went for that bitter, almost scientific-tasting black stuff sold at upscale food places. After all, I wanted the chocolate molecule, not the sugar and other stuff loaded into candy.

Did it work?

Yes. I found myself not exactly getting high on endorphins, but my stamina (especially on the elliptical machine, my particular enemy) went berserk. From a grudging 15 minutes at low levels, I found I could blast through an hour on the elliptical feeling jazzed at the end, not tired and old.

I'm a cynic, so I was suspicious rather than surprised and happy. This had to be a coincidence. So I ate chocolate before going to the gym for the next two weeks, and then the third week I stopped. And… I was back to the same old endorphin-starved brain I'd had before. A week without chocolate and I was back to where I'd started. So I began to eat chocolate again, and—wham!—I was Reddy Kilowatt.

I found the effect to be essentially push-button easy, and the best time to eat chocolate is an hour before hitting the gym. It's good advice, and I hand it to anyone who's trying to reinvigorate his or her gym visits.

But the strangest thing in all this was that my writer's block went away. In a flash. From being a sluggish non-producer, I became speedy and verbal. The relief was remarkable.

I thought back to when my writer's block began. I'd been having some heartburn back then, so I had removed foods from my diet that I thought might be bad for the condition. But instead of going online to learn which specific foods, I chose them the lazy, stupid way: by myself. So acidic foods such as grapefruit juice and orange juice were eliminated as well as, you guessed it, chocolate. So not only did I get physical benefits from my chocolate discovery, but I was also able to solve a mystery.

Since then, anytime I meet a writer I ask if he or she has any ritualistic foods. The successful ones all eat dark chocolate.

Frankly, I hate the taste of the stuff these days. In my mind, it's no longer a food but a medicine. And when the thought of one more dark-chocolate start to the day is too much, I'll switch to chocolate bars, which aren't as efficient and have all that junk in them.

Sometimes I'll try Kozy-Shack chocolate pudding (which my doctor tells me is the number one favorite food of people undergoing elective cosmetic procedures). But even pudding gets dull after a while. I wish they'd put chocolate into a tasteless capsule form, but that is possibly one of the most perverse things you can do with one of nature's most delicious foods. People are funny creatures indeed.